Proactivity and prevention in advice services: Interview with CA Derbyshire Districts

19 Apr 2017

The Financial Health Exchange has been reaching out to our members across the country and beyond to find and share examples of good practice in financial health work. We spoke to Russell Bosanko, Financial Capability Officer for Citizens Advice Derbyshire Districts and asked him how him and his team have been making an impact in the East Midlands. Russell is part of a team of 11 advisers working for Citizen’s Advice Derbyshire Districts offering advice on financial capability, debt and other money related issues.

What was the focus of your work in 2016?

In 2016 we focused on preventative work, identifying clients on low incomes and assisting them to access money saving schemes. The aim was to identify ways to increase income and reduce expenditure, thereby preventing clients from falling into debt. With a view to helping clients increase their income, we offered every client a benefit check regardless of their presenting issue. We discovered that the biggest missed benefits were in-work benefits (such as working tax credits) and disability benefits.

Other examples of our work included helping clients to access schemes such as the Severn Trent Big Difference Scheme (a water bill reduction scheme) and the Warm Home Discount, besides various sources of funding. We gave advice on budgeting, energy saving tips and switching energy supplier and/or tariffs. We also provided individual clients with one-to-one income maximisation/budgeting appointments which they could access by telephone or face to face.

Another key part of our work last year was presentations to frontline workers who engage with vulnerable clients. In these sessions we highlighted what was available to help clients and how to access this assistance. Examples of the organisations we have delivered to include local food banks, library workers and local authorities’ tenancy support workers.

What was the impact of your work?

An example of our success last year was that we submitted 509 Big Difference Scheme applications, saving people an average of £296 on their next 12 months water bills. We supplied energy advice to over 230 clients as part of the Big Energy Saving Network initiative as well as providing energy saving training to 150 frontline workers. During this project we helped people to save on average £300 when they switched supplier and an average of £200 when they changed their tariff. In addition to the financial benefits the impact for our clients is increased wellbeing. This client’s reaction following our help is typical: ‘I was so relieved I left with a plan of action and I didn’t feel alone any longer’.

What challenges did you face in achieving your objectives and how did you address these?

One of the biggest challenges was getting the message across that everyone can save money as many clients felt that these schemes only applied to people who were on benefits. We worked very hard to change these preconceptions through a number of initiatives, such as producing specific leaflets, attending promotional events such as Well Being Events at local supermarkets organised by the borough councils and engaging with the local community at fetes, school fun days and carnivals. 

Are there any partnerships that are essential to your work?

We seek to work with all local organisations. It is essential we are all working together to present a joined-up approach to reach as many people as possible in the local community. As Citizens Advice Derbyshire Districts we deliver direct advice through our network of 7 advice offices, telephone helpline and 84 face-to-face outreach locations. We serve a diverse geography of rural hamlets and industrial towns covering 1,062sq miles.  We have over 200 volunteers and 40 paid staff all of whom have played a key role in identifying clients that would benefit from financial capability/budgeting advice.

How do these partnerships work?

Communication is key – we attend our organisation’s regular workers meetings to update advisers of our current initiatives keeping financial capability at the forefront of our service.

Is there anything you can share with Financial Health Exchange members doing similar work in other areas?

The key message from all of our work is to be proactive, meaning we don’t wait for clients to approach us at crisis point. That’s why we always work within the community and with advice agencies to identify clients that will benefit from our services – early intervention will prevent crisis situations.

What are your plans for 2017?

To continue the excellent work from 2016 building on our current network whilst always looking for new opportunities. The key aim of our work will always be to assist Derbyshire residents to manage their money in the most effective way.